Editor’s note: this article is about a homebrew built around a pet card. By publishing this, we are not recommend spending money or Arena wildcards to recreate this deck.
Lets talk about Casualties of War.
Okay, not like actual casualties of actual wars. That’s a different topic for a different day.
No – I’m talking about the Magic: the Gathering card Casualties of War.
Released in War of the Spark, people may recognize this six-drop sorcery from its time in Standard, where it was a legitimate player in decks like Sultai Control, among others.
Ever since the card debuted, it has been one of my favorites. I get a sick thrill from casting it, and I hadn’t truly figured out why until recently (but I’ll touch on that later.)
Once this card rotated, it really didn’t have a home in constructed. In Pioneer, you’d see it show up once in awhile as a one-of in Niv Mizzet Reborn decks, but it’s been phased out of there almost entirely, opting for uhhh… better Golgari cards like Abrupt Decay, Assassin’s Trophy, or Culling Ritual.
I don’t blame people. Typically, when you play a six drop, you want a higher floor than what is frequently a two-for-one, but I am certainly not one of those people. No – my love for this card has not died.
So what was there to do?
Well, I did run a GB Rock list with Casualties as the top end through a Pioneer League and finished with a 1–4 record, with Casualties just very often rotting in my hand. After realizing that I had probably built that deck wrong. I decided to try a similar build in Explorer, as it’s easier for me to just play a bunch of games there.
This is the list I ended up on, and it’s the list I’ve been running lately. It’s gone through various changes over various matches, but instead of breaking down all those changes, I want to talk more about the deck itself, what works, and how it matches up.
The deck itself, between all iterations, sits at a record of 30–24, which I think is a reasonable amount of games at which to start drawing conclusions. Almost all of these games have been played in Platinum or Diamond, so it’s not like it was just bullying the lower ranks, either.
On that record, one thing to note is that I started off at 0–6, which is obviously much less than ideal. I almost gave up on it, but decided to stick with it.
The deck plays almost like more of a control deck a lot of the time, as it is obviously very creature-light in the mainboard. It’s won several games through Hive of the Eye Tyrant beat down, which is kind of by design. I was really interested in playing the sweepers, which made me cut down on the amount of creatures I wanted in return for Planeswalkers and the creature lands.
Graveyard Trespasser originally wasn’t in the deck at all, then came into the sideboard somewhat early, and went to a full four of in the main deck after match fourteen and I haven’t looked back. It was really a missing link for the deck overall and I’ve been very impressed with it.
Sign in Blood honestly rules. I was a little skeptical of it at first, but it’s been great and is very strong to cast on turn two. This deck loses a lot of life on its own, but between Murderous Rider and tokens from Sorin, you can make up some of that difference that I think it is worth it enough to play the full set of Sign in Blood.
Strangely enough, I actually think this deck matches up with the Explorer meta pretty well. I have a 6–3 record against Rakdos, and that matchup certainly feels favored. I also haven’t lost to any flavor of Greasefang, and the Fight Rigging matchup is very good (other than when they get the nuts top decks, but those just happen sometimes).
The elephant in the room is that it is terrible against UW Control. I’m 1–4 overall against that deck, with that win really just coming on the strength of the two Hives. I’ll touch on it in a second, but the sideboard now heavily reflects that poor matchup.
Also strange is that I’m also only 1–3 against Mono Red, which, on paper, seems like it should be pretty good. I think I’ve gotten pretty unlucky in those matchups, but it’s something to keep an eye on down the line.
Another matchup I like is the Angels matchup. As long as you can prevent them from completely and utterly popping off, this deck is pretty good at just taking care of threats in a linear fashion. You just have to dodge the completely nutty Collected Company hits.
As Jund Sacrifice decks have risen in play in Explorer, Casualties’ ceiling is high in that it can hit Witch’s Oven, Trail of Crumbs, Ob Nixilis, a creature, and a creature land.
That’s all well and good, but how is Casualties of War?
With over 50 matches on this deck, I think I can comfortably say that Casualties of War is… actually very good in some matchups.
In part, I think it’s the biggest reason the Rakdos matchup feels good. Casualties is a catch-up card, and Rakdos really tries to get out and grind value. Fortunately, their cards are often many different card types, meaning Casualties against Rakdos is very frequently a four-for-one, taking out a Chandra or Sorin, any creature, a Fable of the Mirror Breaker, and a creature land or Castle Locthwain. Because that deck forces a lot of bad resource trades (such as using Fatal Push on the Fable token), Casualties is a good way to get right back in the game.
I also really like Casualties in the Fight Rigging matchup, as it’s very often a four or even the full five-for-one, if they have Kiora or the Great Henge down. It’s another instance where you just have to survive the early onslaught, but Casualties is a powerful way to catch up if they do get to cast the spell hidden away by Fight Rigging.
Now, I can say it hits all these cards, but at the end of the day, it’s a six-mana sorcery with a somewhat low floor. I think it is still good in those matchups, and it does cover a lot of decks in the format. I’m quick to side them out if need be, but it turns out that getting to catch up if you have to make bad exchanges early is a pretty nice feature of the card.
This is one of my weirder sideboarding choices. I’ve taken advice from my friend Mr. Bodingles, who sides out Thoughtseize in Midrange mirrors. I’m still debating on whether or not I completely agree with that philosophy, but I’ve been trying it and I do think it’s right – though, I did absolutely get bodied in my last match against Rakdos because they left in their Thoughtseizes. The jury is out a bit for me, but Bodingles is a master of midrange mirrors, and I think he’s correct.
OUT: 4 Thoughtseize
IN: 2 Questing Beast, 2 Go Blank
The big one, and the one that leans most heavily on the sideboard. The two copies of Duress are new to the sideboard as a hedge to try and make this match better. I actually leave a couple Casualties in for this matchup, because sometimes people like to get frisky and hard-cast Shark Typhoon and I like to blow that out. I also like to bring in Questing Beast to go up on threats a little bit, and Questing Beast is a house against the Wandering Emperor.
OUT: 1 Languish, 1 Shadows’ Verdict, 1 Extinction Event, 4 Fatal Push, 1 Casualties of War, 1 Sorin the Mirthless, 1 Binding the Old Gods
IN: 2 Duress, 1 Noxious Grasp, 2 Go Blank, 2 Questing Beast, 3 Shifting Ceratops
OUT: 2 Casualties of War, 1 Sign in Blood, 1 Assassin’s Trophy
IN: 2 Noxious Grasp, 1 Culling Ritual, 1 Vraska, Golgari Queen
This changes a little bit based on the flavor. If it’s Jund, I will bring in the Noxious Grasps, which I obviously will not do against Rakdos, because that would be silly. Culling Ritual is also an absolute house in this matchup.
OUT: 1 Assassin’s Trophy, 3 Thoughtseize (if Jund, the last Thoughtseize, and a Sign in Blood)
IN: 1 Culling Ritual, 1 Vraska, Golgari Queen, 2 Questing Beast (if Jund, the two Noxious Grasp)
OUT: 2 Casualties of War, 1 Sign in Blood, 1 Binding of the Old Gods, 2 Thoughtseize
IN: 2 Noxious Grasp, 2 Go Blank, 2 Assassin’s Trophy
Explorer Wish List
Abrupt Decay and Tireless Tracker are definitely two Pioneer cards I wish were available in Explorer. I haven’t been thrilled with Assassin’s Trophy so far (I think the drawback is too big) and Decay would be awesome for Explorer.
Despite the fact that I really love Vraska, Golgari Queen, I don’t think she’s very good in this deck. I’d much rather side in Tireless Tracker, and I would make room in my sideboard for at least two, if not three. Tracker is a GB Rock staple for a reason and that definitely wouldn’t be different here.
I’d also be curious to see how this does in Pioneer, because I think casting Casualties of War against Mono-Green Devotion would be kind of sweet as a way to answer a lot of their resolved things – though you’re likely to just get drowned in board presence so badly that Casualties wouldn’t catch you up that much.
Why do you love Casualties so much?
I mentioned earlier that I’d get here, and my love of this card actually stems from hatred. Hatred of one card: Nissa, Who Shakes the World.
I hated her in Standard and I hate her now. I think she’s my least favorite card ever printed. She’s pretty much everything I hate about the game, which is mana cheating and combo-enabling. Letting an opponent untap with Nissa is a death sentence.
Casualties of War, however, is by far the biggest blowout you can have against Nissa, as hitting the land from Nissa with it basically turns Casualties into a double Stone Rain, while getting rid of Nissa herself. It is cathartic and it’s a feeling I had forgotten… until I got to do it on the ladder.
It’s a feeling I had buried, and an absolute high I had gotten to experience after so long of not experiencing it. It’s so therapeutic to do this, and I was happy to feel it once again. I can’t believe I’m saying that I almost wish more people played Nissa so I could do this more, but here we are.
Casualties of War is awesome, and so is GB Rock. The problems with the deck are the problems with almost any midrange deck in 2022: they’re too fair.
This deck doesn’t cheat. It has a lot of one-for-one answers and grinds out value with Planeswalkers. It can sometimes just lose to broken stuff, top decks, or control, but part of being fair is that it does its thing pretty well. It can adapt to face any kind of deck, and I’m looking forward to trying it out more, hopefully tuning it to be a little more consistent.
But that consistency will not come from cutting the six mana sorcery..